Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

System Lets Police Telephone Masses; Several Communities Now Have Code Red for Officials to Spread Notices Quickly

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

System Lets Police Telephone Masses; Several Communities Now Have Code Red for Officials to Spread Notices Quickly

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID HUNT

The leak flowed from a broken waterline to the rumor mill, transforming a routine boil-water notice into something with a much more drastic tone.

"The restaurants had signs saying, 'water contaminated,' " Macclenny Fire Chief Buddy Dugger said, adding that he'd even received nervous phone inquiries about chemical dumping. "It was a bit of a citywide panic."

Chalk it up to miscommunication, but the scene that unfolded in this city of 4,500 on an otherwise sleepy Sunday this month is nothing city officials want to see repeated.

Last week, they tested a technology called Code Red, which is capable of making thousands of phone calls at one time from a computer server to give residents an official briefing about anything from a water system outage to a prison break.

Dugger said the service will be online as early as Monday, putting Macclenny among a growing number of Florida municipalities to use Code Red. Cost for the year, based on population and projected usage, is $5,000.

"For what you get out of it, it's a small price to pay," said city Internet technician and purchasing agent Marshall Mann.

Code Red went on the market in 1998 as a product of Ormond Beach-based Emergency Communications Network. Company Vice President David C. DiGiacomo said about a third of Florida counties and about 18 percent of the cities are using the system. Nationwide, the system relays information to an average of 1.5 million households each month.

Steve Weeks, technology director for Naples, said officials there have found Code Red to be particularly useful during hurricane season. The city began using Code Red two years ago and pays $10,000 annually for the service.

"We used it as a warning and for a number of updates from the mayor as to what happened to our water supplies. It was well-received. We got so many compliments from people who were out of touch," Weeks said. "It's an insurance policy in terms of being able to reach people in need. You can't afford not to do it."

The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office began using Code Red six months ago, paying $30,000 in seized drug money for 100,000 minutes of airtime. …

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